On 3rd May 2018 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a question of Government that he had tabled on the impact of gambling advertising.
The exchange with the Minister, and the follow-up questions of others is reproduced below:
Asked by The Lord Bishop of St Albans
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of levels of gambling advertising.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde) (Con): My Lords, a major survey of evidence in 2014 found that the impact of advertising on problem gambling was likely to be rather small, although further research was required. The Government sought further evidence on gambling advertising as part of our review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures. There are strict controls on the content of gambling advertising. It must not be targeted at children. The consultation outlined a package of measures to help strengthen existing protections and fill gaps in evidence. We will publish our response in due course.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, according to the Gambling Commission more than 300,000 children are gambling each week. That is more than the number who drink alcohol, smoke or take illicit drugs. Yet, despite this, we have unlimited adverts during sporting events and many more online and on social media. The number of gambling adverts aimed at children tripled between 2005 and 2012. Does the Minister agree that it is an unacceptable risk to expose our children to this barrage of advertising when we have no firm grasp of its impact? Will he step in and regulate?
Lord Ashton of Hyde: The right reverend Prelate’s phrase that we have no grasp on it is pertinent—as I said, the evidence is limited. We are looking for more evidence, as is GambleAware at the moment. The protections are strong. No advertising that targets children is allowed, and that applies online and offline. When we publish the response to the consultation, it will be one of the things that we outline, and noble Lords will be able to see what our response was. We are very aware of our lack of evidence. We want to concentrate on protections for the vulnerable, particularly children.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, when I was in the Home Office some 25 years ago and responsible for gambling legislation, the rule was that it was not allowed to do anything that would stimulate demand. That included a 48-hour rule for casinos, and there was no advertising. We had a perfectly healthy gambling industry. Since then, we have seen a huge increase in problem gambling and all the difficulties that the right reverend Prelate outlined. Why can we not go back to having a rule that we do not allow stimulation of demand?
Lord Ashton of Hyde: It is interesting that my noble friend says that there has been a huge increase. In fact, problem gambling has remained stable over time. We have limited the amount that can be put in advertising. We had a review in 2014 and protections were strengthened. We consulted on extra measures in our gambling review, the results of which will be published shortly. We understand the issues. We want to have gambling effectively regulated on a voluntary basis—which, incidentally, is much more flexible to deal with changes such as online gambling than a statutory basis.
Lord Foster of Bath (LD): My Lords, notwithstanding the limited evidence, does not common sense tell us that increased gambling advertising is intended to increase the number of people gambling and therefore the likelihood of more people having gambling problems? Does the Minister accept that the time has now come for a compulsory levy to support research, education and treatment in relation to gambling problems rather than the current voluntary levy? Does he not find it odd that nearly 10 times more money is raised to support race horses through the compulsory betting levy than is raised to support people through the voluntary levy?
Lord Ashton of Hyde: The important thing is what is effective. I know that many people have strong opinions on gambling, as they do on smoking and alcohol. The fact is that the evidence does not support some of the claims made. The Binde report said that the impact of advertising on problem gambling rates is likely to be,
“neither negligible nor considerable, but rather relatively small”.
On the noble Lord’s point regarding a compulsory levy, we have said many times that if the gambling industry does not provide the requisite amount to support measures to deal with problem gambling, we will consider a mandatory levy.
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): It appears to many of us incredible that there should be reported to be relatively undisquieting developments in the field of gambling—certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has hinted at that. Are the Government aware of and disturbed by moves towards to what is called the normalisation of gambling or, as the Committee of Advertising Practice put it, the “trivialisation” of gambling? Is not the movement of gambling towards being like the air we breathe a worrying thing that might lie beyond the ability of statisticians to quantify? Will the Government look urgently and proactively for such evidence rather than waiting for the results of a consultation?
Lord Ashton of Hyde: Yes, absolutely. We are looking proactively. We issued a call for evidence; the consultation hinted at areas where there was a lack of evidence. I believe that GambleAware will produce more evidence later this year. We of course accept that there are issues to do with protecting vulnerable people and children. That is why these matters have been addressed in the consultation, and our response will follow in due course.
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con): My Lords, I am not sure that the research methodology has kept up with the development of social media. Can my noble friend the Minister reassure the House that attention is being given also to computer games aimed at children, which are designed specifically to instil the same addictive thrill that may lead to gambling habits?
Lord Ashton of Hyde: Yes, my Lords; I know concerns have been raised about gambling-style games or gambling games that use cartoon imagery, for example, because they may appeal to children. Last October, the Gambling Commission together with the ASA, the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Remote Gambling Association took steps to make sure that online gambling companies remove advertising from websites and third-party media likely to appeal to people aged under 18. I emphasise again that that is one area where the current code, a voluntary but effective form of regulation, allows things to move quickly without relying on legislative time.